Genuine accountability requires feedback loops between power-holders and stakeholders. At the Accountability Lab, we partner with creative accountability change-makers (or “accountapreneurs”) to build innovative tools that enable citizens to close these feedback loops.
One of these tools is Nalibeli: a wiki dedicated to helping Nepali citizens navigate complicated government services and make more informed decisions about issues that affect their lives. The lack of transparency in the current bureaucratic system creates a cycle of exploitation—in which receiving basic services can take hugely unnecessary amounts of time, as well as fees for middlemen and bribes to officials throughout the process. The Lab is supporting Nepali non-profit company, GalliGalli, to develop Nalibeli (which means “to fully understand an issue”) in order to provide citizens with step-by-step instructions on how to access promised public services—including the location, hours of operation and contact details of relevant government offices; the documents required; and the estimated time and fees involved. GalliGalli has created over 1,000 pages of information, including how to get a birth certificate, renew a driver’s license, apply to a university, obtain a marriage license, sell property, receive a pension and file a complaint at a local District Administrative Office, among other key issues. This saves citizens time, money, and difficulty; improves the functioning of government administration; and creates a more equal, just society.
Connecting Online Tools with Human Networks
We’ve learned, however, that to create an effective feedback loop in a country like Nepal, where many of the most marginalized citizens have limited internet access, it is essential to link online tools to on-the-ground events and human networks. As part of Nalibeli, this takes many forms:
- An informal network of institutions and organizations that voluntarily give their time and expertise to help connect service seekers with the bureaucracy;
- “Wiki-a-thons” across the country to help citizens understand how to use the site and why it’s important;
- A regular discussion series giving citizens an opportunity to interact with relevant decision-makers or experts on key issues of concern; and
- Planned citizen tours of government offices, such as the District Administrative Office, led by the GalliGalli team.
Accountability Lab also prompts each of its accountapreneurs to focus on sustainability over time. GalliGalli does so by building earned revenue streams into their model, so that they can avoid relying on short-term donor contracts. GalliGalli publishes all the information they gather online for free, and then charges a fee to help people or companies carry out specific processes, such as registering a company.
Taking Stock and Evaluating the Tool
As Nalibeli met its one-year mark a few months ago, GalliGalli conducted an impact evaluation to assess the progress made. The log of 270,000+ hits on the Nalibeli site gives some indication of user engagement with the information. The team also discovered that their Facebook page is a useful tool to disseminate information and invite people’s questions and input on what information they would like to see on the wiki. Survey respondents said they regularly scan the Facebook page, and when they see a post about new information relevant to their needs, they will follow it to the wiki page.
In order to adapt their impact survey to the Nepali context, in which people feel much more comfortable providing honest feedback through in-person conversations, GalliGalli held in-depth chats with several users. They heard many stories indicating the usefulness of the site. One user shared how Nalibeli was critical in helping him understand the process for acquiring a passport under the government’s new requirements. Another shared how GalliGalli helped her clear up confusion about how to file her taxes, since she identifies under two different categories. Bureaucrats at government offices around the city have started to come more cooperative with the GalliGalli team – sharing information about crucial processes and talking openly about challenges within the bureaucracy.
The interviewees expressed a desire for GalliGalli to take Nalibeli a step further and cover interactions at the ward level—the smallest unit of local governance. One wanted to find out where the states dumps her garbage and another wanted to file a complaint against a neighbor who was flooding a public walkway because of improper drainage systems, but did not know which local government representatives to approach or the process for filing questions or complaints.
Closing the Loop
The challenge from a feedback loop perspective—which is common to practitioners all over the world—is how to get users to put information back into the system. Nalibeli holds tremendous potential as a crowdsourcing platform– to harness the collective wisdom of citizens all over Nepal to help each other understand how to navigate government. The synthesis of government information with multiple user experiences can produce a collective basis of knowledge that can serve both to empower people to overcome barriers to receiving equal treatment and to motivate government officials to follow the proper laws and procedures.
We’ve learned that in order to move forward and grow we need to be patient and flexible. It takes time to gain credibility and reach a universal user base with a tool of this type. We must constantly challenge our assumptions within the realities on the ground and remain open to pivoting towards new strategies. As our team has interacted with various government offices, we have seen them slowly become more cooperative and we will continue to test new ways to build collaboration and communication with them in order to further close the feedback loop. Over time, GalliGalli also hopes to incorporate radio and voice-based mechanisms into Nalibeli to further boost citizen participation. As demand from Nepali citizens for accountability grows, our toolbox is expanding to ensure their voices lead to positive change.
This post was originally written for Feedback Labs by Anne Sophie Lambert and Surabhi Pudasaini.